When beset by personal disasters,
Mr. Freeze encourages people
to grin and bear it.
Although the animated Subzero was originally slated for direct-to-video release this past summer, it was delayed until just recently because Warner didn't want it to get lost in the huge rush created by Batman and Robin. They needn't have worried. If anything, Subzero's release could only have helped its theater-released live action cousin.
This film, a part of the Batman: The Animated Series continuum, is superior to Batman and Robin in nearly every way that counts. We really have to wonder what's going on over at the big WB, that this gem could be produced by the same studio that allowed Joel Schumacher to run amok with the big-budget version of what is essentially the same story.
The plot, like B&R, concerns Victor Fries (that's "freeze" to you), a scientist who puts his wife in cryogenic suspension until a cure for her terminal disease can be found. In the process, however, Fries has become a creature of the cold who can only survive at freezing temperatures. As the film opens, the good doctor has retreated to the Arctic, where he can run around without his containment suit, accompanied by his pet polar bears and faithful Eskimo companion. A bit hokey, perhaps, but well executed, as it allows us to see Fries as a sympathetic and gentle character before circumstances force him back into his old criminal ways.
Those circumstances arrive in the form of a submarine which is exploring the oceans beneath the polar ice cap. The sub surfaces through the ice floor of Fries' lair, breaking his wife's cryogenic tube. After disposing of the sub's crew, Fries returns to Gotham to seek the help of his former partner and save his wife at any cost.
A suprisingly hot Barbara Gordon,
bookended by Bruce and Dick.
Our principal characters, meanwhile, are enjoying life in Gotham City. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (who, for those of you living under a rock, are Batman and Robin, repsectively) attend lavish society functions between city patrols as their superhero alter egos. Dick woos Barbara Gordon, the police commissioner's daughter who does her own crimefighting as Batgirl. Just when things seem to be going well between the two, Barbara is kidnapped by Mister Freeze (despite Dick's best efforts), because she is one of the only people who can serve as an organ donor for Fries' wife. Of course, Batman and Robin spend the rest of the film attempting to rescue Barbara.
Subzero acts as the bridge between the the first Batman: The Animated Series and the new series that is part of The Batman/Superman Adventures. As such, it sidesteps some continuity issues, probably to avoid alienating any particular group of viewers, like people who have only seen the live action movies, or people who have only seen the first series, and so forth. Probably the biggest unanswered question is whether Batman and Robin know Batgirl's secret identity, and vice-versa. In the first animated series they don't know these things, but in the live-action movies they do, so the movie carefully skirts this by keeping Barbara from referring to Batman and Robin by their civilian names. Nor do Batman and Robin ever encounter Batgirl in costume.
Dick Grayson tries to get
medieval on Mr. Freeze.
The animation is top-notch, as usual. Unfortunately, it's the last time we'll see the "old" Bruce Wayne before the series is retooled to include Superman. Because the character designs for Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent were nearly identical, Wayne was given a face change to include blue eyes and more angular features in the new series. The only real complaint we have about the animation in this film is the disturbing mix of computer-generated action sequences with hand-animated characters superimposed on them. The effect is unsettling, like watching soap opera actors pretend to drive in a stationary automobile mockup while a bluescreen fills in the exterior scenery whizzing by. If the producers were going to computer animate a sequence, they should have gone all the way. On the other hand, there are some pretty cool sequences involving computer animated objects, like the Batplane.
Make no mistake, this movie isn't nearly as good as the first animated Bat movie, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. The story isn't as gripping as it should be, and Batgirl, in costume, doesn't get enough screentime, though Barbara is a constant presence. Considering that the animated series won an Emmy for its first (of two) Mr. Freeze episodes, the treatment of Freeze here seems pretty pedestrian. Still, it's better than Batman and Robin, which borrowed heavily from the animated series in the first place.
Also, look out for the first episode of the second animated series, because it acts as a direct sequel to Subzero, giving the story a little bit more closure than it has in the movie alone.